Reports last year explained that Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) singlehandedly killed the 2010 transit funding bill in order to keep transit advocates at the table for a 2011 package that would also address highway funding shortfalls.
The parallels to 2007 are strong. STB was founded for the purpose of advocating for the roads and transit package. Some writers thought the road projects were largely HOV lanes and therefore positive; in all cases, we saw that much light rail as a game-changer, essential to move forward at all costs. In the end, that wasn’t enough, as a coalition of environmental groups allied with rail opponents drove the measure to defeat.
In the end, voters (and leaders like Greg Nickels) vindicated the anti position by getting ST2 to the ballot in 2008 and passing it. Some people took away the lesson that compromise of this sort is never necessary. Personally, I think the composition of the electorate in 2008 was an under-appreciated cause of victory. I’d be sorely tempted by another game changer, like a large ST3 package, in exchange for roads.
Unfortunately, there’s little hope of anything so transcendent. Far more likely is a band-aid for Metro’s funding problems. And under those circumstances, there isn’t a lot of road for which transit advocates like me are prepared to vote. Since many highway supporters will also vote against any tax increase, the legislature will need the vote of moderate transit supporters, and should consider certain environmentally friendly features, in rough order of importance:
- a complete solution to the funding woes of transit agencies around the state;
- extreme emphasis on HOV and maintenance projects as opposed to general purpose capacity, particularly in areas where transit options are robust;
- for the highway and ferry portion, near-total reliance on gasoline tax, which helps to correctly price the negative externalities of driving and constitutionally can’t be used for anything else anyway.
- full funding authority for the transit portion of the deep-bore tunnel plan;
- accelerated improvements to Amtrak Cascades; and
- new local funding options for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Here’s to hoping the urban legislators in Olympia are making clear that these elements are important.